June 03–David Taber has been a driver for Walmart for three years. His home-base is St. James, but his delivery and pick-up routes are relegated to anywhere in the Midwest. He showed up with his truck and 53 foot-long trailer at the Third Annual Safety Day for Kids, a couple weekends ago in Rolla. Kids love big trucks, but there was another purpose for bringing his rig to this event.
“We’re out here just trying to make the non-trucking public aware of the hazards associated with the stopping distances needed and blind spots of these trucks when they’re out on the highway,” he said.
Taber says a basic understanding of the driving skills truckers need when they’re hauling heavy loads is crucial to everyone’s safety.
“Drivers get frustrated and aggressive, when they shouldn’t and the motoring public does things they shouldn’t through a lack of education,” he noted.
“65 mph in this truck, loaded, is going to take about two seconds of reaction time, from the time I see something happening in front of me until I’m actually able to be on the brakes. When you count reaction time, plus stopping distance, you’re looking at [the length of] a football field.”
Tabor says the Missouri Trucking Association and the American Trucking Association are actively involved in the “No Zone” awareness program and Walmart has joined their efforts, which Taber views as win-win for everybody.
Started in 1994, the “No Zone” program was initiated by the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA, known previously as the Federal Highway Administration), as a response to Congress’s concern with safety, due to the increased number of big rigs on our interstate highway system. A “no-zone” is a blind spot or areas around a big truck where the driver can’t see vehicles in close proximity. According to the FMCSA’s website, the major no-zones include the following:
Side No-Zone: This is the area to either side of the truck, which is significantly larger than a regular car’s blind spots. To avoid a side No-Zone, drivers should avoid hanging out next to a truck–especially on the right, where the No-Zone is larger. As a general rule of thumb, if you can’t see the driver in the side-view mirror, they cannot see you.
Rear No-Zone: Tailgating is bad driver behavior with any vehicle, but can be especially dangerous with large commercial trucks where the truck driver cannot see your car behind them. Keep in mind that truckers do not have the benefit of a rear-view mirror as the trailer blocks it; instead, they have to rely on side-view mirrors.
Front No-Zone: Due to their large size, it takes considerably longer for a truck to come to a complete stop; in fact, many of them need twice as long as a regular passenger vehicle. For this reason, drivers should always avoid swerving or “cutting” in front of a truck as it could result in a rear-end accident.
Jason Counts, the safety clerk with the St. James Walmart Distribution Center’s transportation department, works to make sure their drivers are upholding the level of safety the kids were learning last weekend.
“Our goal is the same as everybody’s goal in life–to make sure our drivers and the motoring public make it home safe and sound,” said Counts. “We take safety very serious here–it’s the number one goal with our company.”
Road safety is promoted and taught by the distribution center through ongoing training for the drivers who are on the road every day. The transportation department holds regular classes dealing with defensive and distracted driving. They also keep track of driver’s “safety miles”, or accident free miles reported by employees. Drivers are rewarded for their safe driving through incentives such as cookouts or yearly bonuses.
“We promote it as heavily as we can,” said Counts.
The transportation department employs over 160 drivers who’s job is to be on the road. These drivers are broken up into classes of 15 to 20 people, who rotate in and out of safety classes that are held each month. Computer based courses are further assigned to drivers throughout the year, dealing with hazmat loads and freight, and training drivers to see a problem on the road before it happens.
Counts said the biggest issues stem from drivers using their cellphones on the road. On the company’s end, Counts explained they enforce policies to limit the amount of time their drivers can spend on their phones. They hold random audits of driver’s cell phone records to make sure they are being used responsibly, and not in a way to endanger others.
“If people put their phones down in their vehicles, that would greatly reduce the amount of accidents seen on the road,” he stated.
Even with the number of policies and classes in place, Counts said their drivers are trusted to be responsible.
“They know they’re being watched, but our drivers are professional enough that we don’t have to monitor them to know they are performing at their best,” he said.
Walmart driver David Taber hopes the general driving public has a little more empathy towards the drivers of big rigs and wants people to know most drivers are always safety-conscious. And the kids–what do they like best about his big rig?
“If there is air left in it, they want to honk the horn!” he said.
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